Bernard G. Schatz (aka L-15) in his remote mountain studio in rural West Virginia, 1985;
photo © Roger Manley.

Bernard G Schatz, aka "L-15", was a prolific artist who began his career as an oddball novelty act during the American folk-music revival of the early 1960s. In the 1980s, he became known in the outsider-art world for his thematically varied figurative sculptures and paintings. To support himself he relied on his skills as a physical therapist, but he continued to make art until his death from pneumonia on July 20 in Charlottesville, Virginia. He had been in declining health for about two years.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 21, 1931, Schatz was a young child when his mother left him in the care of relatives in Los Angeles, California. In the 1950s, he briefly studied theatre at LA City College before devoting seven years to medical studies at two California universities. After sampling a few art courses he dropped out of school to become an artist on his own terms. He earned a degree in physical therapy, taught himself to play banjo and started performing quirky variations on traditional folk songs at private parties and other venues. In the early 1960s, as "Cheyanne Schatz, World’s Greatest One-Man Band", he travelled around LA in a flamboyantly painted, sculpture-embellished car full of musical instruments, artworks and props, promoting his free-form act that combined folk music, stand-up comedy and dada theatre. He made six television appearances on the nationally syndicated Steve Allen Show. In 1964, he opened the Cheyanne Schatz Store in Santa Monica, California, where he displayed and sold commercial artifacts, examples of his art and his satirical self-published books. When the store proved unsuccessful, he returned to medical research and physical therapy.

For several years, Schatz owned and directed a physical-therapy clinic, then he sold it in 1974 and bought a 50-acre farm in West Virginia, where he moved to focus on his art. In 1983, he had a solo exhibition at Virginia Tech University in nearby Blacksburg, Virginia –the first of several shows marking his public re-emergence in that that decade. In the late 1980s, he sublet his farm and moved to Charlottesville, where he spent the rest of his life making art and practising physical therapy. His expertise in the latter field was distilled in his book Soft Tissue Massage for Pain Relief (Hampton Roads, 2001).

Schatz’ subject matter came from history, mythology and his observations of modern society. His art career oscillated between periods of exposure and retreat, as his work was sporadically shown at venues including the Outsider Art Fair in New York and the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. In 2004, I curated “The Wondrous World of L-15,” a 50-year, 500-piece retrospective for the Anderson Gallery at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Art in Richmond.

Schatz is survived by a daughter Anna Schatz and granddaughter in Morrow Bay, California. He left his estate, including 3,000 to 5,000 works, to former business partner and colleague JoAnn Christy, who is forming a trust to inventory these works and place them in public and private collections through sales and targeted donations.

For more information see www.L-15.org.

 

by Tom Patterson

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